Monday January 06, 2014 | 06:20 PM

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler on Monday continued to criticize last week’s endorsement of Democrat Mike Michaud by the state’s leading gay rights group, saying during a local radio interview that the group “abandoned” the bipartisan coalition that helped legalize same-sex marriage in 2012.

Cutler said during the WGAN interview that he didn’t want to make the endorsement by EqualityMaine a campaign issue, however, two state senators who backed him during his 2010 gubernatorial bid planned to discuss it further during a press conference scheduled for Tuesday in Portland. The event was publicized by Ileana Wachtel, the former spokeswoman for Americans Elect, a national non-profit originally formed to introduce a bipartisan presidential ticket for the 2012 election, but that later spent over $1 million during the 2012 Maine U.S. Senate race to help elect U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.

Cutler formerly served on the Americans Elect board of directors, but he resigned upon becoming King’s state election chairman in 2012. Cutler's involvement with the group and the campaign triggered a complaint by the Maine Republican Party alleging that there had been illegal coordination between King's campaign and Americans Elect. The FEC's enforcement office has apparently not reviewed the matter.

Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for Cutler, said Monday that the campaign did not arrange the event. She said she was unaware that it was taking place until one of its participants, former Democratic state Sen. Dennis Damon, contacted the campaign last week as "a courtesy." Canney said that she had previously contacted Damon about writing a newspaper opinion piece about the EqualityMaine endorsement. A letter from Damon was published online Monday by the Bangor Daily News.

Wachtel, who is located in California, said she had been asked by someone in Maine to arrange the event, but she would not say by whom. She said nobody with the Cutler campaign asked her to set up the press conference. Asked if her involvement signaled interest by Americans Elect in the 2014 gubernatorial race, Wachtel said the group was currently “dormant.”

Americans Elect's biggest donors, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are still involved in electoral politics, raising questions about the prospect of it spending in the 2014 Maine gubernatorial race. Bloomberg is an avid gun control advocate and has spent money to push background checks and other limits in other states. Cutler has been critical of Michaud's record on control.

In 2012, Bloomberg was one of three wealthy donors that helped resurrect Americans Elect during the Maine U.S. Senate race. He gave $500,000 to the group to buy ads on King's behalf. The group's founder, Peter Ackerman, contributed $500,000 and Passport Capital's founder John Burbank contributed $750,000.

None of those individuals has donated to Cutler's campaign, according to the candidate's most recent campaign finance report. However, he did draw a $500 contribution from Kahlil Byrd, the former CEO of Americans Elect. Byrd's LinkedIn page lists him as the president of the national education reform group, StudentsFirst.

Cara Brown McCormick is listed as an Americans Elect board member. Canney said Monday that McCormick, who lists Cape Elizabeth as her residence on her Twitter account, is now part of the Cutler campaign.

Meanwhile, Cutler continued to blast the EqualityMaine endorsement. He told WGAN Monday that he was disappointed that the group backed Michaud, who he said had cast over a dozen votes against anti-discrimination and marriage equality laws during his several terms at the Maine Legislature. 

Michaud, who could become the first openly gay candidate elected governor in the country, has since improved his standing with gay rights groups, earning a perfect score during his six terms in Congress with EqualityMaine and a 95 percent rating with the national Human Rights Campaign. 

Cutler was critical of his opponent's self-described evolving record on marriage equality issues.

"My support has been consistent and I've never had to recalibrate my moral compass on this or any other range of issues," Cutler said Monday. "I've worked my butt off to help equal marriage succeed in Maine."

He added that the successful 2012 drive to legalize a same-sex marriage in Maine was the result of Democrats, Republicans and independents coming together to support the cause. He said EqualityMaine had abandoned that bipartisan coalition by endorsing Michaud.

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud, defended the congressman's gay rights voting record. She said it was disappointing to see Cutler "attack the integrity of an organization that he claims to respect."

 

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
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